The Light in the Piazza

The Light In The Piazza Adelaide Fringe 2016Davine Interventions. Star Theatre. 1 Mar 2016

 

It is splendid that we have producers ready to stick their necks out and put on modern musicals with lots of Broadway cachet but not the sort of commercial clout the big guns are seeking. Here's to David Gauci who seems to be a rising force in the musicals business, and here's to his shows realising the sorts of keen audiences they deserve.

 

This time, with Hayley Horton directing, it is the US-acclaimed The Light in the Piazza which began its road to popularity as a novel by Elizabeth Spencer which was quickly picked up by Hollywood and made into a 1960s film featuring Gloria Dehavilland and Rossano Brazzi and glorious Florence locations. The Craig Lucas/Adam Guettei musical emerged some 40 years later, the twist of the romantic story having arrived at new topicality. Basically, it is the story of a girl living with brain injury.

 

The word resounding around the Star Theatre foyer at interval was "sweet". It is a really sweet musical.

 

Gauci has designed a very effective set, big white art frames which slide smoothly on and off a stage cleverly framed in faux marble to give a strong impression of Italian architecture. Otherwise it's all basic black, allowing for projections, an astute lighting plot, and a simply wonderful array of 1950s costumes.

 

Yes, the frocks are lovely, as are many other things, not the least of them the quintet conducted by Peter Johns. The musicians sit in the front corner of the auditorium beneath the stage, their mellow tones perfectly balanced against the singers and just beautiful in their own right. It is heavenly to hear a harp in there. The musical itself is of the neoclassical Broadway ilk, hard to play, hard to sing, sometimes lyrical and sometimes in-your-face.

 

The show opens with a beautiful musical reverie from Clara who is expressing the sheer joy of being in beautiful Florence amid the world's great works of art.

An accident on her 12th birthday has left her somewhat naive and very carefully sheltered by her tobacco-rich parents in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

With her mother, she is now on holiday in Florence where she falls in love with a young Italian shop assistant. Faced with the boy's wonderful Italian family and the joy of her daughter, the mother, Margaret, has to gauge just how far to let the relationship go. It is an emotionally complex part and it needs a particularly potent performer to evoke its roller coaster emotions. Katie Packer is this player, not only with her pure, rich mezzo voice but with the stagecraft to deliver a character for whom the audience is to establish a very close and sympathetic relationship. It's a bravura performance.

 

Kristin Stefanoff is not far behind as Clara. She glows with innocence. She is exquisitely expressive. She sings beautifully, a crystal soprano.

These two leads could carry the show but they don't have to. The support cast is terrific while for much of the time speaking Italian. Although Lindsay Prodea pushes his voice a bit too far for comfort in a couple of songs, he plays the smitten young Fabrizzio adorably.

 

David Visentin brings more romantic appeal to the stage as Fabrizzio's sleek father with Irene Castrechini-Sutton charming as his more retiring wife. They both are strong singers and so is everyone else, especially contralto Lisa Simonetti who triumphs with a passionate solo.

Andy Trimmings as sleazy brother-in-law completes the lead cast supported by Joshua Barkley, Megan Langford, Trish Hendricks, Verity Colyer, Matt Redmond, and Eloise Quinn-Valentine; everyone working through character and costume changes as smoothly as a well-oiled clock.

 

Altogether it is a classy production of an interesting American musical - highly recommended.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 1 to 5 Mar

Where: Star Theatres

Bookings: adelaidefringe.com.au

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